Quickly – do you know where Yemen is? Do you know what is happening there? Do you even bother? The thing is, many of us in Singapore are blissfully unaware of what is happening in the Middle East, and even less aware of the implications to our business. Even if we don’t have any business dealings in the Middle East, it pays for our businesses – SMEs especially – to be aware of what is going on.
To answer you, Yemen is at the southern tip of the Middle East, and it shares its longest border with Saudi Arabia to its north. To its east, it counts Oman as its neighbour. Yemen has the Red Sea to its west, and the Gulf of Aden to its south. From its southwestern tip, Yemen is 30km from Djibouti. This is the narrowest part of the strait leading up to the Suez Canal. This is an important waterway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Why is this even remotely important to us in Singapore? Because Singapore is a key transshipment point for vessels that ply from the Mediterranean and Asia. And if something happens in that choke point, there may be grave implications for Singapore.
And what is that something that might happen there?
Well, it so happens that Yemen is in the brink of civil war. More accurately, it is on the brink of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Without going into too much detail, Yemen, which was only last year hailed by the President Obama as the model state in his strategy to defeat ISIS, has now descended into chaos to such an extent that the US are now evacuating from Yemen, leaving them to fend for themselves. This shows how volatile the situation is in the Middle East and how easy it is for other powers to meddle in smaller nations’ affairs, putting them at the brink of civil war.
And that puts our trade at risk. After all, in an industry that is hopelessly depressed, PSA made a record $3.8B in 2014, contributing much to Singapore’s GDP. (Profits were unfortunately lower due to higher costs). So if something happens in Yemen, we might pay for it.
What else does this show to us?
Yemen holds a strategic position in the Middle East, as does Singapore in South-East Asia. If something remotely similar to Yemen happens to Singapore, many of our Asian neighbours will suffer. This is yet another reason why Singapore needs a strong defense force, and stronger bilateral relationships with our neighbours. If Yemen can deteriorate from model country to international crisis in six months, how much faster will Singapore’s decline be, if we were no on our toes?
So, should you care about what’s going on in Yemen? You betcha! Because it may rear its head to bite us if we are caught unawares!